Michigan grads sing a cappella with Couric on ‘Today’
Watch Blackout, an a cappella group with Michigan roots, perform on the ‘Today Show’
When Chaz Cox started the New York City-based a capella group Blackout in 2014, he didn’t plan to be on NBC’s “Today” show singing with Katie Couric.
“My intention never was for something like this to happen,” says Cox, a University of Michigan graduate and native of Byron, located between Ann Arbor and Flint. “I hoped we would find people we got along with and we would make something together that we all were proud of, but I never imaged it would be at this level, especially on a national stage like the ‘Today’ Show.”
On Monday morning, the “Today” show invited the 11 singers to help kick off Couric’s week of guest hosting with Matt Lauer. Couric anchored the morning show from 1991-2006 and is filling in for Savannah Guthrie, who’s on maternity leave.
Blackout’s appearance was “serendipitous” and happened last minute, Cox says.
“Katie has an affinity for a capella, so they wanted to bring an a cappella group on,” Cox says.
It ended up being a nice birthday present, as the segment aired on his 28th birthday, he adds.
Carly Atto, a 28-year-old from West Bloomfield and a UM grad, led the group in their rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” Toward the end of their outdoor performance, Lauer pipes in, telling the group they sound great.
“You know what else would be great?” he says. “If we could find one more voice to fill out the sound.”
He then grabs Couric by the elbow and pushes her into the circle.
Despite Couric’s “I don’t think so” protests, she chimes in with some “oooo’s” and a piercing “my lonely heart calls.”
After the cameras shut off, Cox says there was a lot of laughter and happy tears.
“It was really emotional,” he says. “Especially living in New York City coming from a smaller town, having a group of really close friends is really special because the city can feel isolating, and it’s hard to make real, meaningful friends. So for all of us, the music is important, but the camaraderie and friendships that we have is just as, if not more, important than the music.”
Blackout — a mix of professionals in medicine, teaching, social work and more — usually performs at NYC venues like the Rockwood Music Hall and The Bitter End. However, the group did take part in the 2014 Super Bowl pre-game show in MetLife Stadium.
“That was another experience where we were like, ‘Wow, we can’t believe this is happening,’ ” says Cox, who works in public relations.
Cox and Atto both performed in UM a cappella groups — Cox was a member of The G-Men, and Atto was in Gimble. While Cox now rehearses about 2.5 hours a week compared to his college days of eight hours, he says the connection with fellow a cappella members is the same.
“There’s something weird about an a capella group and the bonds you make with people and being able to completely be yourself and be vulnerable,” he says, “and you just get to know each other really well.”
But it’s always a bonus when the “Today” show calls.
“I think, for most of us, it was one of the most memorable days of our lives,” Cox says.